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Pundit Arena’s ‘World XV’ Of 2018

2018 has been another memorable year for rugby as all focus now switches to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

Ireland have been the most impressive as on the international stage they secured a Grand Slam, a series win in Australia and a 100% record throughout the November internationals which included a victory over the All Blacks.

Leinster, who provide a significant number of Ireland’s squad, secured a Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup double and the eastern province are well placed to repeat that feat in 2019.

Elsewhere, the All Blacks eased to yet another Rugby Championship but their losses to the Springboks and Ireland this season have shown some weakness in their armour. Rassie Erasmus looks to have turned around the sinking ship that was the Springboks and they are building nicely going into a World Cup year.

The Wallabies have had a turbulent year with some disappointing results while back in the Northern Hemisphere, Wales are performing very well under the radar and you wouldn’t bet against Warren Gatland guiding the Welsh to the latter stages of the World Cup in his final year at the helm. Meanwhile, England have turned around some worrying form at the beginning of the year to have a successful November despite the squad being ravaged by injury.

With all that in mind, we have produced a ‘Best World XV’ for 2018:

15 – Beauden Barrett

Nominated for World Player Of The Year yet again but ultimately losing out to Johnny Sexton, Barrett had another excellent year although he came in for criticism in the All Blacks’ loss to South Africa in the Rugby Championship for not taking the option of a drop goal.

Sexton is rightly the best 10 of 2018 but it’s impossible to leave Barrett out of this team which is why we have slotted him in at fullback.

14 – Rieko Ioane 

It’s hard to believe that Ioane is only 21 but he is without doubt one of the best wingers in world rugby at the moment. The Auckland native has 11 tries to his name throughout 2018 and looks set to have another superb year.

Rieko Ioane World XV

13 – Garry Ringrose

Although Ireland have used a raft of different centre combinations throughout 2018 due to injury, Ringrose has excelled on the biggest of occasions. Like Ioane, it’s easy to forget how young Ringrose is. At 23, the centre has developed into a world class player.

Announced himself on the scene with his attacking exploits, Ringrose is now one of the finest defenders in the game and he makes protecting the 13 channel look easy.

It’s scary to think how much more he can develop.

12 – Owen Farrell

A player who completely divides opinion but no one can deny Owen Farrell’s ability.

Farrell has consistently improved his game as 2018 progressed, shaking off the inevitable dip in form that comes with playing after a Lions tour.

Farrell’s distribution and game-management is up there with the best and this sees him excel at both 10 and 12.

His leadership holds no bounds, often disregarding his own safety to do whatever it takes to stop the opposition – he will be hugely important as England look to disregard their early 2018 slump and push on into the new year.

11 – Jacob Stockdale

Crowned Six Nations Player Of The Championship as a result of his record-breaking try-scoring exploits, it’s safe to say that Stockdale had a memorable 2018.

His sheer size and power make him an absolute handful to defend against but he backs this up with brilliant decision making and superb execution. When fit, he is guaranteed to start as Ireland’s left winger but his form has also contributed to the rejuvenation up in Ulster.

Jacob Stockdale World XV

10 – Johnny Sexton

What else is there to say about Johnny Sexton? He recently became just the second Irish player ever to win the World Rugby Player Of The Year award and it’s little surprise as he guided Ireland to one of its most successful years ever.

His last-gasp drop goal against France in the Six Nations will dominate the highlight reels for years to come but it’s how he consistently performs at the highest level and perhaps more importantly, how he gets the best out of his teammates which puts him above the parapet.

Like a fine wine, Sexton seems to be getting better with age.

9 – Faf De Klerk 

This was a tough one, but we gave this spot to Faf de Klerk for his contribution in a transformative year for Springboks rugby.

Despite playing in England, Rassie Erasmus has made it clear how important de Klerk is by selecting him whenever he is available to do so. De Klerk’s crisp passing, ability to guide his forward around the pitch, his sniping from the base of the ruck and his support running lines have all played a massive part in some impressive results for the Springboks.

Many are looking at South Africa as dark horses for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and if they are to have any success, de Klerk will be key.

Faf de Klerk World XV

1 – Cian Healy

Cian Healy is going through somewhat of a career renaissance. After injuries plagued the powerful loosehead for years, Healy has now regained his fitness and his form which has seen play a pivotal role in Leinster and Ireland’s success this year.

His powerful scrummaging, carrying in the loose and his work rate make him stand out. Every time he goes on the pitch he completely empties the tank for 50-60 minutes and has become a key element to Joe Schmidt and Leo Cullen’s plans.

2 – Malcolm Marx

Despite some errors at key moments in the November internationals, Malcolm Marx has mostly been superb throughout the year and like Faf de Klerk, has contributed heavily to the Springboks’ revival.

His strong scrummaging ability is important but it is the sheer amount of work he gets through in the loose that makes him really stand out. For a player in his position, Marx scores a lot of tries and he consistently offers himself up to carry into heavy traffic for the benefit of his teammates.

Looked a little off in the latter stages of 2018 which could be put down to the end of a very long season but expect him to back and possibly be even better as we head into a crucial year.

3 – Tadhg Furlong

The best prop in world rugby? Probably.

At this stage, you would find it difficult to be surprised by Tadhg Furlong but he continues to tear down the barriers to what is expected of a tighthead prop.

A destructive scrummager and powerful in the loose, perhaps it Furlong’s ability with ball in hand which is most impressive.

For a big man, Furlong can excel in positions most suited to an out-half or a centre as he used his handling ability on more than one occasion for key set-piece tries for Ireland and Leinster this season. Think back to his pop-pass to an onrushing Bundee Aki which led to CJ Stander’s try against England at Twickenham – rarely do we see a prop so comfortable in this position.

Superb.

Tadhg Furlong World XV

4 – Brodie Retallick

Long considered one of the best locks in world rugby, Retallick cemented that assertion in 2018 as his abrasiveness in the carry and his prowess in the lineout helped the All Blacks to another Rugby Championship.

Wasn’t at his best against Ireland at the Aviva but again, that could be said about a lot of the All Blacks’ players that day.

Retallick and Sam Whitelock remain one of the best second-row partnerships in world rugby and they will be crucial to Steve Hansen’s goal of winning the World Cup next year.

5 – James Ryan

Surely a future Ireland captain in waiting. At 22, Ryan has already cemented his place as one of the best in his position in the world. His energy and fitness sees Ryan perform to an intense level throughout 80 minutes.

A strong carrier and tackler, superb in the air and an astute operator when it comes to maul defence, Ryan has all the qualities you want in a second-row and to state again, it’s his ability to perform these duties to a high-level throughout a full 80 minutes which makes him a class above.

6 – Peter O’Mahony

The talismanic Munster captain had another memorable year in the green of Ireland. One of the finest lineout operators in the world, O’Mahony is a player every team in the world would love to have. His ability to turn over the ball, be it at setpiece time or during phase play at the breakdown is such an important asset.

The Cork native also has an innate quality to read the game. A brilliant operator.

7 – David Pocock

Despite being in a struggling Wallabies team throughout 2018, Pocock has been a class above for Australia and without him, you just wonder how worse the year could have been for Michael Cheika.

One of the best poachers in the world, Pocock’s ability on the deck is crucial for the Wallabies as they love to attack in transition.

The struggle for Cheika will be how to accommodate both Michael Hooper and Pocock in the same back row while simultaneously getting the best out of both players – something which the Wallabies head coach has yet to crack this season.

8 – Kieran Read

The All Blacks captain, like many of his teammates, looked tired at the end of 2018 but Read plays such a pivotal role in the success of his team.

A player who leads by example, Read often has little regard for his own body as he constantly throws himself into rucks, makes hits and offers himself to carry – essentially what you want from your number eight.

However, Read is also one of the best handling back row forwards in the world and these skills play a pivotal role in the All Blacks’ sweeping attacking moves.

Will leave New Zealand after the 2019 World Cup for a stint in the northern hemisphere – what better way to sign off his time with the All Blacks than helping his side lift the Web Ellis trophy.

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About Sean McMahon

Sean is Head of Pundit Arena Rugby. Contact him on Twitter here: